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Analysis: Armenian headbutt hands all three points on a plate to nervy Scotland

Scotland's John McGinn celebrates making it 3-1 against Armenia
Scotland's John McGinn celebrates making it 3-1 against Armenia

Goals change games as the saying goes.

So do headbutts it seems.

Yerevan in Armenia may not have been on anyone’s bingo card as defining destinations for Steve Clarke and Scotland.

A tough away fixture was bearing all the hallmarks of being a hugely challenging one for a vulnerable Scotland – but only until their hosts hit the self-destruct button to hand Scotland a 4-1 Nations League victory on a plate.

Shorn of the services of Andy Robertson, John Souttar and Scott McKenna after they failed to make the trip to Armenia, Clarke made four changes to the side beaten 3-0 by the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

Nightmare start for Scotland

There was an element of hesitancy given how severely the confidence was dented at the weekend.

But we did not expect the fragility of the side, which was so ruthlessly exposed in Dublin, to be laid bare for all to see once more after just six minutes.

Grant Hanley was isolated out wide on the left and he was swatted aside with ease by Khoren Bayramyan who had all the time in the world to race into the box and pick out Vahan Bichakhchyan for a tap-in.

Thankfully Stuart Armstrong restored parity quickly when he sidefooted home the equaliser but the visitors were hugely fortunate not to concede again.

The back three of Hanley, Jack Hendry and Scott McTominay looked all at sea as one ball after another was played over the top of them.

Their inability to deal with Armenia’s direct approach was as galling as it was infuriating.

Forget international football, this was schoolboy stuff from the Clarke’s defence and the only saving grace was that their opponents were not able to punish them more.

Make no mistake a better side would have put Clarke’s men to the sword and ended this one as a contest in the opening half hour.

Red card turned game in Scotland’s favour

Scotland’s weak spot was clear for all to see and Armenia’s three-pronged attack but the home side’s own deficiency – their composure – left them down to 10 men and a goal behind in the space of a minute.

Arman Hovhannisyan was the guilty culprit for a moment of madness which turned this game on its head.

Armenia’s Arman Hovhannisyan (L) is sent off for violent conduct against Scotland’s John McGinn

He fouled Nathan Patterson but before referee Nikola Dabanovic could get his yellow card out his pocket the left back inexplicably headbutted John McGinn.

The official did him a favour by only brandishing a second yellow for the forward motion with his head.

Hovhannisyan trudged off in disgrace. He was lucky if he reached the dressing room before the error of his ways was punished to the full as Armstrong’s quick feet led to him scoring his second of the game to give the visitors a half-time lead.

Second half was comfortable for Clarke’s men

The visitors came out with renewed purpose after the interval.

A goal and a man up Scotland’s nerves were finally settled five minutes into the second half thanks to fine touch and finish from McGinn.

Che Adams celebrates scoring to make it 4-1.

Suddenly that confidence which had been in short supply was everywhere and Che Adams broke away to fire in the fourth.

Where their opponents had squandered first half opportunities in front of goal Scotland were ruthless.

The 4-1 scoreline allowed Clarke to make a raft of changes with Aberdeen midfielder Lewis Ferguson among those to get a runout for the final half hour

The home side’s misery was compounded in stoppage time when substitute Kamo Hovhannisyan was shown a straight red for a reckless challenge on Dons midfielder Ferguson.

By then the game had taken on the tempo of an exhibition game. At the end of a long season few in the Scotland camp were complaining.

Questions still remain about that defence – particularly in the absence of captain Robertson and Kieran Tierney – but for now at least Scotland can enjoy the three points they so badly needed.

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